As we can all probably imagine, the Advent season this year is going to look very different from any of our era’s Christmases past. Our Advent and Christmas theme this year is Still Christmas. With all that is will be going on and all that can’t safely go on during this season, it will still be Christmas.
This past year has brought new things into our current reality we may never have imagined. Shutdowns, facemasks, shortages of hand sanitizer and toilet paper, supply chain stalls, business closures, curbside pickup, online grocery shopping, working from home, virtual learning — and so much more.
Yet, it will still be Christmas.
Add to that the stresses of social unrest, political polarization, and financial uncertainties. Yes, friends, there’s no denying that 2020 has been a year of challenges like no other.
Yet, it will still be Christmas.
Following the traditional four themes of the Advent season, Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love, this year’s First Church Advent season will begin on Sunday, November 29, and end on Christmas Eve, Thursday, December 24. And just as surely as it always does, Christmas Day will follow on Friday, December 25, when we celebrate — in the words of the hymn — that “love came down at Christmas.”
It will be a quieter Christmas. It will be a still Christmas and in that stillness perhaps we can focus more clearly on the meaning of incarnation — of God’s entrance into human experience in the person of Jesus.
Advent is a season of hope. That is the traditional theme for the first Sunday of Advent.
The simple definition of hope is: “A wish or desire accompanied by confident expectation of its fulfillment.” Notice the words “confident expectation.” I think that describes the Advent attitude perfectly — confident expectation.
In 1868 Phillips Brooks penned the words to the beloved hymn, “O Little Town of Bethlehem” for the children at his church, Holy Trinity Church in Philadelphia. It quickly became a hymn loved by people of all ages.
He was inspired to write the hymn by a journey he took to the Holy Land in 1865. According to the story, Brooks traveled on horseback between Jerusalem and Bethlehem on Christmas Eve. He recalled that night: “Before dark we rode out of town to the field where they say the shepherds saw the star. It is a fenced piece of ground with a cave in it, in which, strangely enough, they put the shepherds. . . . Somewhere in those fields we rode through, the shepherds must have been. As we passed, the shepherds were still ‘keeping watch over their flocks,’ or leading them home to fold.”
Brooks participated in the Christmas Eve service, conducted in the ancient basilica built by Constantine in the year 326 A.D. over the traditional site of the Nativity, a cave. The service lasted from 10:00 pm to 3:00 am!
Thinking back on that powerful experience, he wrote:
O little town of Bethlehem,
how still we see the lie;
above thy deep and dreamless sleep
the silent stars go by.
Yet in thy dark streets shineth
the everlasting light;
the hopes and fears of all the years
are met in thee tonight.
The part of that hymn that strikes me in this Advent of 2020 is the phrase “hopes and fears.” What fears do you carry into this Advent season? What are you hoping for this very different Advent Season? When you think about the theme Still Christmas, what comes to your mind?
We begin our 2020 Advent with hope. That is the good news of our faith and we prepare to celebrate the birth of the Christ child.
Dr. Tim Bruster
Isaiah 64:1-9 (Common English Bible)
1 If only you would tear open the heavens and come down!
Mountains would quake before you
2 like fire igniting brushwood or making water boil.
If you would make your name known to your enemies,
the nations would tremble in your presence.
3 When you accomplished wonders beyond all our expectations;
when you came down, mountains quaked before you.
4 From ancient times,
no one has heard,
no ear has perceived,
no eye has seen any god but you
who acts on behalf of those who wait for him![c]
5 You look after those who gladly do right;
they will praise you for your ways.
But you were angry when we sinned;
you hid yourself when we did wrong.
6 We have all become like the unclean;
all our righteous deeds are like a menstrual rag.
All of us wither like a leaf;
our sins, like the wind, carry us away.
7 No one calls on your name;
no one bothers to hold on to you,
for you have hidden yourself from us,
and have handed us over[f] to our sin.
8 But now, LORD, you are our father.
We are the clay, and you are our potter.
All of us are the work of your hand.
9 Don’t rage so fiercely, LORD;
don’t hold our sins against us forever,
but gaze now on your people, all of us.